Japan from the inside out

The South Korean government: One custard pie after another

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 23, 2007

Just when you thought the zaniest comedy troupe in Northeast Asia—the South Korean government—couldn’t milk any more gags from their Takeshima/Dokdo routine, the longest running joke in Seoul show bus politics, they come up with even wackier material that tops everything they’ve done before.

Take this story from the April edition of the South Korean monthly Joongang, as reported in the Joongang Ilbo newspaper in Japanese, and this Kyodo coverage in the Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan. (Both versions of this exploding cigar are in Japanese, and I couldn’t find an English version when I looked earlier.) The report is featured in the Korean magazine’s 39th anniversary issue and is confirmed by the comedy writers directly involved in the events.

Recall how upset the Koreans have been over the past few years with Japanese claims on Takeshima?

It’s all been part of their act!

Five months before the Japanese and the South Koreans signed the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations that restored ties between the two countries, both governments reached a secret agreement about Takeshima, the disputed islets in the Sea of Japan. In fact, one of the Japanese negotiators was the late Uno Sosuke, then a member of the Diet, but later to become foreign minister and, briefly, prime minister. (Uno later took a pratfall of his own when he tried to perform the old comfort woman routine with a pseudo-geisha.)

Here was the deal:

  1. Both countries would recognize that the other claimed the islets as their own territory, and neither side would object when the other made a counterargument. They agreed to regard it as a problem that would have to be resolved in the future.
  2. If any fishing territories were demarcated in the future, both countries could use Takeshima/Dokdo as their own territory to mark the boundaries. Those places where the two lines overlapped would be considered joint territory.
  3. The status quo in which South Korea occupied the islets would be maintained, but the Koreans would not increase their police presence or build new facilities.
  4. Both countries would uphold this agreement.

But you know what those madcap jokesters in Seoul did? They broke all four conditions in the deal!

Here’s how they aimed the seltzer bottle at Condition 3:

Since July 1954 to the present, the Republic of Korea has stationed a number of security guards on Takeshima, the scale of which has continued to increase year by year, including lodgings, a lighthouse, a monitoring facility and antenna. In November 1997, despite repeated protests by Japan, a docking facility to enable use by a 500t supply ship was completed. In December 1998, a manned lighthouse was completed.

The Korean treatment of condition #4 is one of the greatest comedy stunts of all time. Their objections that Japanese claims to Takeshima were just a sign of resurgent Nippon militarism and dreams to recover the empire? It’s just canned laughter! The joke’s on you, Japan!

And we haven’t gotten gotten to the best part yet! The only copy of the agreement was in the possession of South Korean President Park Chung Hee. After he was assassinated, one of his successors, Chun Doo-hwan, saw the agreement and knew this might ruin the act for good. So what did he do?

In a stroke of comic genius, he burnt it!

Who knew that Chun was the classic straight man? He set the scene so South Korea could play Lucy for the next two decades and pull the football away from Japan’s Charlie Brown every year. And to go one up on Lucy, they get to blame the Japanese every time!

The audiences laughed so hard, they were boiling tea in their belly buttons!

But every good comedy troupe has more than one good routine, and the South Korean government is no exception. In addition to their famous Takeshima/Dokdo shtick, they’ve also got another old standby: Japanese school textbooks!

And in the tradition of all the comedic greats of the past, the South Koreans have updated their material by adding a new twist:

They’re going to hire new gag writers and rewrite their own school textbooks!

Get a load of this side-splitter from the Chosun Ilbo in English!

The conflicts between South Korea, China and Japan over differing claims of territorial control and historical fact will be addressed in a new course and textbook for 11th and 12th graders to start in 2012.
The “East Asian History” textbooks will handle in separate chapters Japan’s claim over the Dokdo Islets and its glorification of its war of aggression and China’s “Northeast Project” assertions on early Korean history.
The current Korean history and geography textbooks discuss only briefly Japan’s role in war-time sex slavery and the Dokdo issue.

Comedy lovers have to worry if the Korean clowns are painting their noses a little too red with this one. They say the textbooks discuss Dokdo only briefly, so the 11th and 12 graders need to learn more? The premise is a little weak.

Heck, the audience already realizes that everyone over the age of six in South Korea knows all there is to know about Dokdo!

But the sure-footed Joseon chuckleheads will probably recover from any missteps, because most Korean claims about Takeshima are a classic study in slapstick to begin with. They start with the granddaddy of Korean comics, Ahn Yong-bok. Ahn wrote the book for Takeshima vaudeville. Here are just some of his greatest skits:

  • He used three different stories to explain why he went to the islets in the first place—when it was against Korean law for him to go!
  • He claimed he saw people living on the islets—when they don’t have any fresh water!
  • He insisted that he met the Tottori feudal lord and told him that the Tsushima feudal lord snatched from him a note written by the Shogun stating that Takeshima was Korean territory—when both lords were staying in Edo for a year at the time!
  • In fact, he even had this parody of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” in which he kept getting the names of the different islands in the region mixed up. With Ahn, it was “Where’s Dokdo?”

(At the hospital) “Hey Ahn, who was that lady I saw you with last night?” “That was no lady—that was my Dokdo!”

Recognizing sheer talent when they see it, the other masters of Korean comedy gave this ground-breaking funnyman one of their greatest accolades.

They named Ahn the Father of the Korean Navy!

Another sign of the comedic brilliance of the Korean government is how they borrow other well-known material and rework it into their own act to leave a whole new generation laughing in the aisles. Here’s an example of how they spoofed the famous Warner Bros. cartoon character, Foghorn Leghorn. Get set for the punch line as the Korean Education Ministry justifies their new textbook:

The Education Ministry said, “We have decided to establish East Asian History as a new course not to deal with the historical distortions by China and Japan, but to help future generations seek reconciliation and cooperation.”

Comedy lovers will spot right away the echo of Foghorn’s trademark justification in every cartoon:

“It’s a joke, son. I said, it’s a joke!”

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14 Responses to “The South Korean government: One custard pie after another”

  1. Aceface said

    And you tell me why I bait the trolls…..
    Get ready for incoming troll attacks!

  2. Durf said

    The answer is obviously to give the troublesome islets to Freedonia, which has always laid rightful claim to them.

  3. Jiromaru said


    I am reading your posts always with respect and gratitude. Thank you very much.

  4. I didn’t really start paying attention to the Japan/Korea hostilities on the net until recently. Has it always been like this? Is the whole Dokdo/Takeshima/You say po-tay-to, I say po-ta-to thing just an excuse for people to fire away at each other?

  5. James A said

    I think Mexico should take them over and use it to set up shop for the only decent Mexican restaurants in all of East Asia. Seriously, it’s the best spot for La Comida Revolucion over here. Plus since it’s an island, they could make some kick-ass ceviche from the fish around the islands.

  6. ampontan said

    Lost in Ube: The fishing rights around the island are potentially very lucrative. The really over the top behavior comes mostly from Korea, as even observers of Korea will admit. Take a look at that link for the 6 year olds, for example. Nothing like that happens in Japan.

  7. Snarky said


  8. stannn said

    Hey some corrections,

    Chun Doo-hwan didn’t burn it nor was kept by Park Chung Hee according to the korean version of Joongang Ilbo.
    Is japanese version different?
    According to the korean version, Kim Jong Rak, brother of Kim Jong Pil, kept the documents and burned it after Park got assassinated.

    Anyway, what a moron japanese negotiator at that time,:-)
    How come they expect korea to stick to the secret agreement? especially the 3rd line. “Japan would let koreans have the islets.” lol

    So innocent(?) japanese people stick to the secret agreement and got robbed of the rocks.

    Anyway, is it a legal binding agreement? I hardly think so. They didn’t pass the congress.

  9. ampontan said

    Stannn: The Kyodo version definitely says Chun. They might have mistranslated it. Or the JoongAng Japanese version might not be a good translation, either.

    If it wasn’t a legally binding agreement, there was no need to burn it, was there?

  10. stannn said

    Ampontan: If it is legally binding,
    then what if Korea reduces its troops strengh and remove some facilities on the islets? will japanese people be satisfied and quiet?
    or let say,make some artificial island near the islets and moving a military base there, since it seems these agreement only refer to the condition on the islets?
    If japan was really serious about these rocks then why didn’t she stipulate in the normalization agreement?

  11. ampontan said

    Will Japanese people be satisfied and quiet? You could ask the same question about Koreans. Japan paid 800 million dollars in reparations to South Korea in 1965 and got an agreement that they didn’t have to compensate individuals. That was up to South Korea. Is South Korea satisfied and quiet?

    If the agreement is legally binding, the South Koreans would also have to let Japanese fishermen fish there, which they’re not doing now, also in violation of a private fishing agreement.

    They also would have to negotiate about the future disposition of the islands.

    And Koreans wonder why Shimane Prefecture declared a Takeshima Day?

  12. stannn said

    So if koreans allow the japanese fishermen fish around Dokdo,
    then japan will be quiet?
    Even if the secret agreement were any legally binding which I highly doubt, It only says “They agreed to regard it as a problem that would have to be resolved in the future.”
    So korean government are doing what they are supposed to do to resolve the problem, ignoring japan and holding the rocks until as long as possible.

  13. stannn said

    It doesn’t say specifically like, hey, if the problem is not solved, then let’s go to international court on the day of 2030 Jul 1st. What a moron japanese negotiator was~ He should have written down some specific constraints there, instead of “resolved in the future”

  14. Overthinker said

    I am most puzzled at the idea that there was only ONE copy of this agreement, held by Korea. Surely it’s SOP to have a copy each for any bilateral agreement? Why on Earth didn’t Japan ensure it had a copy? Secret or not, it’s only logical.

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